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Stress and Self-care


Recently I’ve come to understand what’s not working in clients’ view of self-care and stress. Hopefully this blog will give you a clearer perspective on how the two fit together.

Here's what I hear from clients: I’m too busy for self-care right now, but when I’m less busy, I will certainly get right to it. You could also substitute the word stressed for busy with the same kind of thinking. Self-care is something that will happen in the future when stress somehow miraculously disappears on its own. 

Here’s a typical example. A client we’ll call Julia has two kids, a part-time job working from home, and a husband who works hard but does little in the way of parenting. Julia has at times run marathons and eaten healthfully on diets. She loved how she felt when she ate with intention and mindfulness and exercised regularly. During this time she also made an effort to go out with friends or at least touch base with them via texts or emails. But she insisted she had so much to do that she couldn’t keep up with it all and slowly she turned to fast, unhealthy food and stopped exercising and keeping up with friends. Now she’s unhappy with her eating, weight and life and still stressed.

Another client we’ll call John feels that self-care is just one more chore to do. He already works full-time and takes care of his aging parents. He’s exhausted when he comes home from work and resents the idea of cooking, going to the gym or taking a walk. He’s annoyed that there’s always more to do when all he wants is flop on the couch and do nothing (aka watch TV and snack). He has high blood pressure and stress-related eczema and would like to have both under control but adding more to his day feels like way too much work.

Both of these clients totally miss the point: self-care is neither a chore nor optional. It is integral to well-being. Repeat: self care is integral to well-being. And it reduces stress. If you were to do yoga or walk daily, practice deep breathing or meditation, finish a book you’re enjoying instead of clean the kitchen floor, spend far more time away from social media, and treat yourself like a king or queen, you would feel less stressed.

Plus, it’s true that if you start doing these things when you’re already stressed, you might not see many benefits and give up. Self-care prevents stress. Not all of it, of course, but a good deal of it. Build in self-care now. Try this: make a list of things you do and put them into one of two columns: self-care care or stressor. Add them up and if you have more stressors than self-care, you need to add more relaxing, fun things. Self-care is far from a choice. It’s an honor and a privilege.